February 02, 2010
There were official Dion Phaneuf(notes) jerseys on sale at Air Canada Centre for the defenseman's debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there's just something more appropriate about seeing a D.I.Y. sweater thrown together with joyous resolve when discussing Brian Burke's extreme makeover of the Leafs.
Was Tuesday's 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils a revelation? In the grand scheme, not really: No Marty Brodeur across the rink, and the Jersey offense made the Leafs look like the '84 Oilers for most of the contest.
But as it pertains to the first Leafs appearances for Phaneuf, goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) and forward Fredrik Sjostrom(notes) -- and that of a team purged of six players in the last three days -- the game was a tantalizing look at what Burke is building in Toronto.
Phaneuf and Giguere were in the starting lineup for the Leafs, with Giggy arguably getting a larger ovation from the ACC crowd for being a rare commodity in the recent history of the franchise: a competent veteran goalie still somewhere in the neighborhood of his prime.
On Sportsnet, Phaneuf was called "a jewel" and "a total package defenseman," whose acquisition harkened back to the impact of the Doug Gilmour trade. He was also shown slamming a Red Bull in the Leafs locker room before the game, so you knew Dion would be starting fast.
Just 3:12 into his Leafs debut, Phaneuf had his first hit, driving Travis Zajac(notes) into the boards. At 6:51, his truculence level rose to acceptable Burkian levels with this scrap against Colin White(notes) of the Devils:
While Phaneuf was making an impression, Sjostrom was hitting the score sheet: Taking a shot on Yann Danis(notes) that rebounded to Nikolai Kulemin(notes), who buried it for a 1-0 lead at 4:40 of the first.
Goals by Phil Kessel(notes) and Francois Beauchemin(notes) -- two foundational players Burke acquired during the offseason in the early stages of this makeover -- made it 3-0 in the second period. From there, it was Giguere.
The former Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner with the Anaheim Ducks made 30 saves in the game and 12 in the final period, preventing any hope of a Devils comeback to match the one the Leafs had in New Jersey during their most recent meeting.
Giguere wasn't spectacular, but that's not what the Leafs ask of him. They want confidence, they want stability; he gave them that and, more importantly, he gave them a dependable last line of defense when Toronto got into trouble in its own zone for a chunk of time.
It was Giggy's first shutout since Nov. 27, in just his third start since Jan. 3. Meanwhile, here's what the night looked like for Phaneuf and Sjostrom:
Giguere, Phaneuf and Sjostrom were named the three stars of the game by someone in the press box who wanted to hear three huge ovations; again, Giguere's was the loudest.
Brian Burke wasn't technically eligible to take a spin around the ice as a postgame star, but that doesn't mean he wasn't one. For one night, the boldest moves of the NHL season produced an attitude transplant for the Leafs, and the worst team in the East didn't look the part for once. It's a work in progress, but it's progress.
Thanks to Y! Sports Canada's Ian Denomme for the ACC flavor and the photo.